The Carolina Hurricanes came into Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center riding a three game winning streak. The Canes, who are fast and have historically given the Caps some trouble, fired the first six shots on net in the first five plus minutes of this contest.
That would be the high water mark of the night for them.
A sleepy Capitals start was erased at the 5:54 mark when Caps Captain Alexander Ovechkin put a big hit on defensemen Brett Pesce in the offensive zone. Basically, the Gr8 was letting his teammates know that the beginning of this tilt was not what he had in mind and it was time to get going.
The troops followed their Captain’s lead and ramped up their intensity. Shortly thereafter, Dmitry Orlov made a nice move in the offensive zone and drew a tripping infraction on Ron Hainsey. 85 seconds into the power play, Ovechkin once again set the tone for his club by scoring off the glove of Canes goalie Eddie Lack (23 saves) on a shot that was likely headed wide. The shot was so hard that the Carolina goalie swatted at it and changed the disc’s direction right into the twine. It was Ovi’s 26th goal on the season.
Just over three minutes later, red hot Brett Connolly made a super move in the slot to buy some time and a shooting lane to the cage and he roofed one short side on Lack to make it 2-0. It was #10’s 11th tally of the season, just one off of his career high.
Washington would build off of those two goals and generate several more chances in the late stages of period one and into the middle frame, but Lack started heating up. The Caps had numerous quality looks in period two, but they couldn’t get that key third goal. Carolina didn’t have a lot of opportunities, although they did generate a one on one chance for Sebastian Aho, but Braden Holtby (23 saves) shut the door.
Heading into the third period, the outcome was still slightly in doubt, but two Washington goals in 27 seconds changed that quickly. Connolly made a great steal in the neutral zone and on a three on two zone entry, the super smart hockey player picked the right direction with his pass. That was on the stick of Lars Eller, who was coming with speed down the left wing side of the ice. #20 wound up and fired a laser that beat Lack short side, top shelf, once again. It was the second goal of the night for the third line, which has absolutely been on fire since Christmas.
The second unit was not to be outdone, though, and some strong wall work by Justin Williams jarred the puck free on the right wing boards in the offensive zone. Marcus Johansson then fed Evgeny Kuznetsov cruising in the high slot and #92 put the biscuit in the basket to make it 4-0 just 6:37 into period three. It was Kuzy’s 12th goal of the season and it was revenge for a dirty Brock McGinn slash near the end of period one that initially injured Kuznetsov. Paybacks are hell, Brock.
The Caps would then score five or more goals at home for the ninth straight game when Jojo deposited the rebound of an Ovechkin power play shot into the open cage with 5:48 remaining. Ovi absolutely got every bit of the puck on that blast, which was off of a nice feed from Matt Niskanen, and Lack simply could not contain it, allowing the perfectly positioned Johansson to notch his 17th goal of the season. Good things happen when you go to the net.
This was a solid win for the Capitals against a team that is fighting for their playoff lives, but the Caps, once they got going, were simply too much for Carolina to handle. Coach Barry Trotz just rolls out line after solid line and it wears their opponents down. In the last nine games at the Verizon Center the Capitals have now outscored their opponents by a staggering 48-11!
The Holtbeast earned his 7th shutout of the season. He didn’t have a ton of work, but he was solid and didn’t give up a goal in the first five minutes when the Caps were still finding their legs. Between Holtby and Grubauer, the Caps are getting superb net minding night in and night out.
The win improves the Caps to 37-11-6 (80 points) and they lead the second place Blue Jackets by seven points and the third place Penguins by eight points, although both of those clubs have two games in hand. It’s not time to start quoting the Ron Howard B-movie classic “Eat My Dust” just yet, but a Metropolitan Division title is certainly there for the taking for the Capitals. Washington now has a +66 goal differential this season and they continue to crush their opponents in the first period (58-23).
As I stated on WNST on Tuesday morning and wrote on twitter (@EdFrankovic) before puck drop, motivation for the Caps in this game was something I was concerned about. They did start slow, but once Ovechkin laid a licking on Pesce, the team woke up and ultimately cruised to victory. It wasn’t a clean game for the Capitals, but they got the job done and didn’t really give Carolina many chances to crawl back into the contest.
This hockey team is really good, and believe it or not, they can actually get better.
Notes: Shot attempts were 57-51 for the Caps…Washington was buried at the dot, 35-20. Eller was 8-6…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:10…Ovechkin had two points (50 for the season now) in just 17:18…Brooks Orpik and Nate Schmidt were each +3…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while the Canes went 0 for 3…next up for the Capitals are the Red Wings at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Thursday night.